In this series, MOJEH talks to three influential women in regional fashion to highlight why there’s never been a more important time to support and protect the Middle Eastern fashion industry. Here, Natalia Shustova (aka @shoestova) discusses the fallout of 2020, championing regional creatives and taking a new ‘in season’ approach to style.
The global pandemic, and its many crippling consequences, has left the UAE’s most beloved home-grown fashion labels and cool, creative concepts with an uncertain future. Confronting closures, a slower economy and an ever-changing ‘new normal,’ local businesses have faced a multitude of obstacles over the past few months, which they have had to overcome in order to stay afloat and survive.
One of many fashion entrepreneurs forced to face the fallout of the pandemic and its subsequent lockdown is Natalia Shustova. With a passion for supporting, developing and nurturing emerging regional designers as well as helping to bridge global creative talents with the Middle Eastern market, the 42-year-old founded fashion concept store The Design House, which opened in DIFC at the end of 2019.
“We had some major plans for 2020,” says Natalia, recognised as one of Dubai’s most successful fashion influencers. “The business model of The Design House is based on regional designers and emerging labels renting a small space in our concept store to display their collections or products. This year, we had intended to expand the store offerings to include a F&B joint and a totally unique in-house florist, as well as introducing an academy/common space for creatives,” she explains.
“But because of Covid-19 and the restrictions which had to be implemented during lockdown, the store remained closed for months, and we had no idea when we would be able to re-open.” With no choice but to accept the immediate closure of physical stores, retailers and entrepreneurs like Natalia, had to quickly adapt their business models in order to continue trading – the harsh reality being diversify your offering, or face sudden death.
“Even though the original plan was to provide a beautiful retail space to a fashion-savvy community, we had to change tack, fast,” says Natalia. “We decided to offer shoppable content on our social media platforms through Whatsapp and Instagram, and deliver, contact-free, direct to our customers. And we fast forwarded our e-commerce plan, even though we didn’t intend to start until 2021.”
The circumstances demanded that fashion businesses switch their focus to online and react to immediate change through e-commerce and social media platforms. And while larger corporations may not have been able to implement these changes as fast as they’d have liked, because of organizational protocols and procedures, smaller businesses had fewer layers of management to gain approvals from on rapid business updates – allowing them to respond faster to consumer’s immediate wants and needs.
But the malleability and resilience of the region’s smaller and more flexible fashion businesses, doesn’t mean a fast-track to survival, and ultimately success.“The next 6 months are going to be incredibly hard,” says Natalia. “But the industry absolutely will get through this.”
“We just need regional consumers to support us and the home-grown talent we believe in. We have been working hard to make the whole #ShopLocal movement gain momentum, as we’ve highlighted our ability to offer flexible retail solutions while spotlighting the amazing talent that makes this region such a brilliant and forward-thinking centre of design.”
With the Covid-19 crisis highlighting the industry’s incessant production schedule, questions have been raised over the necessity of seasonal collections. If the existing fashion calendar of seasons does change globally however, local designers will ultimately be the ones more in tune with the climatic needs of the regional woman.
Without being tied to classic fashion week schedules, or required to produce multiple collections, designers can create at their own pace, allowing them to tap into needs and wants specific to the country they work from, or the client market they work to.
“We work with emerging labels and creatives, the majority of whom produce very limited numbers of items not necessarily linked to seasons,” notes Natalia. “We encourage our community to produce and c
How will regional fashion rebuild itself post-crisis and what will this new order look like? “We hope ‘in season’ will become our new fashion cycle,” concludes Natalia. “As well as a totally new approach for collection launches.”
Find emerging regional brands at concept store, The Design House; Tdhtdhtdh.com
- Words by Lucy Wildman
- Images: supplied, Instagram @designhouse.conceptstore